Abreast Abroad: Preparing for Au-Pairing

On Sunday I’ll be leaving for my twelve-month stint as an au pair in Switzerland. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to pack a year’s worth of clothes in two suitcases, but it never seems to get easier!

One of the main things that I know I’ll have to cut back on is dresses. I have more than thirty dresses (I just chose a few for this post), and I know that a lot of days as an au pair I’ll just wear jeans and a t-shirt. As I’m caring for a ten-year-old girl, not an infant or toddler, my job shouldn’t be too messy or physically active, so I feel justified in bringing some dresses, but not my whole collection. 🙁

Please offer any input or opinions you have! I’ve never lived in Europe before (other than a few months in Spain), and I don’t know if my dresses match with the Swiss style or normal level of modesty.  Also, keep in mind that these dresses are for wearing in my everyday life, not just my time as an au pair.


After seeing the picture I think I’ve already decided against this dress.  I always liked the unique cut and the colors, but I think my breasts look droopy and it was difficult to keep my strapless bra from showing.


I think that this one will be comfortable and appropriate. My bra straps did show unless I was careful though. (Thankfully I wore the lovely Fiona bra so the straps were pretty 🙂


Yikes! So short! Seeing pictures of myself like this really gives me a better perspective of my clothes . . . I never felt like this dress was as short as it is. It’s too bad because I really like the neck line and fit.


This dress is another one I’m thinking I’ll leave. It’s lost a lot of the elasticity in the top, and I hate that I feel like I have to constantly pull it up.


One of my sisters got this dress on a trip to India, but she gave it to me because she  doesn’t have the courage to wear it in the States. I’ve worn it a few times here in New York and I love the way it feels. I don’t love it in this picture, though, so I might have to rethink bringing it!


It’s hard to see the halter strap on this dress, but I feel like it is straining to hold me up! I appreciate the extra support of straps that I can tie around my neck, but my neck can end up feeling the strain after a while. I actually like this dress a lot though.


This dress is cute, comfy, and hopefully not too short or low cut. I don’t like how the sheer the white part is, but I may wear it in Switzerland with a camisole.

Seeing myself in these dresses in pictures, rather than looking in the mirror (where I generally look at small details, not the big picture) is really interesting! I hope I get some feedback from readers with opinions on what I should take and what goes into storage.

Sidenote: Looking at these pictures also makes me feel like my arms and legs are extremely bony! I wish I could choose where my ‘fluff’ goes. 😉



Abreast Abroad: Hide and Go Seek–Modesty Around Kids

In a few weeks I’ll begin working as an au pair in Switzerland, a job I got thanks to years of experience working with children. I’ve worked at summer camps, as a babysitter, a nanny, and an English teacher, and I’ve volunteered as a mentor, tutor, and Sunday School teacher for kids of all ages.

My wardrobe when working with kids has varied hugely based on the context. Whenever I work in a Christian or church setting, I am extra careful about what I wear because I know that there are people who are more conservative than I am in dress, and I don’t want to cause any offense.  The age of the children I’m working with also makes a huge difference. Kids five and under barely notice what their caretaker is wearing.  Some kids have stuck there grubby little hands straight down my shirt! Others say things like “Why are you boobs bigger than my mommy’s?” (How do I answer that?!).

Another factor that I take into consideration is the culture. The standard of modesty when I taught English in South Korea was different from what I was used to.  Korean dresses tended to have a high neckline and short skirt.  If I wore anything that showed any cleavage my seven- and eight-year-old students would be in uproar! “Teacher!” they would say, “Bad men will touch you!” Since there was no dress-code at my academy and I worked with all males who would never say anything about my clothes, I had almost too much freedom to wear whatever I wanted, so I’m glad my students had my back!

I am most conscious of modesty when I am working with middle school girls.  I think that middle school is the time when most people choose the path they are going to follow in life. Not necessarily a vocation or a style, but what their character is going to be.

While in university, I went to several urban middle schools for weekly mentoring programs.  The girls I encountered in these middle schools were all totally different, yet all had the same deep insecurities.  Some of them were still awkward little girls and others were beginning to look like young women.  It was important to me to be a role model to each of them and show them that they are all beautiful.  Many of them saw attention from boys as their only affirmation.  It was a real danger that they would start showing more skin to get more attention and in the end have no self-confidence apart from that attention.

As a young woman I was automatically “cool” to these girls and they paid attention not just to what I did, but what I wore.  What I ultimately wanted to communicate to them about modesty in my time as a volunteer was that it is about self-respect. You need to be able to look in the mirror and see that you are beautiful regardless of whether the opposite sex turns their heads when you walk by. “Modesty” doesn’t have to mean that you are old, frumpy, nerdy, or unattractive. It just means that you have the confidence and comfort to wear appropriate and properly fitting clothes and still feel beautiful.

Abreast Abroad: Review of the Parfait ‘Fiona’ in 30F

Getting my Parfait bra set in the mail was extremely exciting!  I wear a 28FF in Freya, but because Parfait sizes run from 30D-40G, they sent me a 30F and a 30G to get as close to my size as possible.  I didn’t even try the 30G because the 30F was surprisingly roomy.  So I gave Leah the 30G, and you can read her review and see pictures of it in her post.

First of all, the Fiona is really beautiful.  I chose this style with its creme shade and relatively simple pattern because that is what appeals to me.  It’s important to me that I can wear my bras with all my clothes and that they are comfortable and offer proper support.  Prettiness is an added a bonus.  Besides being pretty, the quality of the make and material of this Parfait is really obvious.  The small details are great.

I was also very impressed with the Parfait in terms of comfort.  I wore it all day yesterday and felt wonderful.  The band was snug on the loosest hook, but it didn’t dig into my ribs or back at all.  I had to adjust the straps a bit, but they rested in the perfect spot near the edge of my shoulder without falling off or irritating my arm.

Below you can see some pictures of me wearing the bra under a regular shirt and two different dresses.

This is the t-shirt that I wore the whole day and it highlights the main issue I had with the Parfait bra.   There was a significant crease on the top of the cups.  We tried the band at all levels of tightness and the crease didn’t really change.  When the band was at its tightest, there was also a little tissue spilling out and making a mound.  Sometimes the crease wasn’t too noticeable and didn’t create lines in my shirt, but with certain posture it could definitely be seen

This is the dress that I wore yesterday.  I had the options of wearing it with a completely beige bra, wearing it with an undershirt, or letting my more patterned bras show through.  I think that I would wear the Fiona bra with this dress, though the dark brown lace is visible in the picture.

This is another dress I wear pretty often and I really like it with the Fiona bra.  My plain beige bra is visible, as this dress is pretty low-cut, and my other bras show more cleavage than I prefer.  The Fiona didn’t show much cleavage at all and the bra itself stayed hidden.

Abreast Abroad: Shana Goes to Fit School

A lot has happened since my niece wrote about large cup bra shopping in South Korea. She ended up with two job offers–one selling wholesale baked goods (you saw her interview outfit for that job), and the other as an au pair for a ten-year-old girl in Zurich, Switzerland. Despite my best efforts to persuade her to stay in New York, she leaves for Switzerland at the end of May (boo!), so her Abreast Abroad column will be truly international again. This time when she shops for bras overseas, she’ll have an even better understanding of bra fit because she attended the Eveden Fit School at Curve in February. Here’s what she learned.

At Freddy Zappe’s Eveden Fit School I observed a bizarre encounter between an anti-boring-bra vigilante and Freddy’s assistant.  This vigilante woman looked to be in her 20s or 30s, and when Freddy’s assistant suggested using a plain old lady bra on a customer, just for fitting purposes, she was outraged.  The vigilante quickly informed the group that if someone tried to fit her in such a bra she would immediately walk out and never come back. The assistant patiently tried to explain that this wasn’t a bra she would try to sell to a younger customer, but that it would help her choose more youthful bras in the correct sizes.  However, the woman insisted that even if her fitter explained that it was just for fitting purposes, she would be extremely offended just at the sight of such a bra!  Thankfully, this woman (who I believe really embarrassed herself) left in a huff a few minutes later and let those of us who were there to learn listen in peace.

The rest of the women who volunteered to be fitted had more serious issues than whether an “old lady” bra was used to help them find their size.  A woman with narrow shoulders brought up the issue of straps sliding off her shoulders.  Freddy suggested using bras with middle straps or using a hook to bring the straps together in the back to prevent slippage.  (In fact, so many women had been raising this issue that Freddy called in her boss to show her the problem and suggest that Eveden offer more bras suitable for narrow shoulders.) Another woman had been wearing her bra too tight for years.  There were deep indentations left in her shoulders and back.  Freddy said that a band or straps that are cutting off circulation can cause permanent damage and those indentations may never fill in.

Another common issue was with arranging the breasts within the bra.  Some women didn’t lean far enough forward to fit the cups properly. One woman in particular did the opposite and leaned forward with so much gusto that her breasts came up too far in the cups of her bra.

Something I realized at the fit school is that fitting is both technical and intuitive.  A few of the women who attempted fittings simply didn’t seem to grasp how to choose the best bra for their subject.  They would guess a smaller cup when she needed a larger, or loosen the straps when the straps were fine.  Other women were definitely gifted and experienced fitters and they could assess a woman’s fitting issues easily.

Closer to the end of the seminar I volunteered to be fitted.  I knew that I was going to have a chance to speak to experts at Eveden Fit School so I specifically wore a bra I had questions about.  It was the 28 H Bravissimo Rococo Charm Bra in the picture below.

It is truly a beautiful bra and it looked fine on me.  At first, I think some of the women thought I wore it so as not be embarrassed by a ratty old bra, but I quickly pointed out that this bra had different and non-obvious issues.  First of all, the H cup was a little too big for me so there was some extra fabric.  The main issue though, was with the band.  I measure 27 or 28 underneath my breasts, so a 28 band should be perfect.  However, the underwires of this Bravissimo dug into my ribcage painfully.  I hadn’t noticed when I first tried the bra because there was little discomfort while standing, but if I sat or reclined at all it nearly felt like my ribcage was being bruised by the underwire.  Freddy suggested a more flexible underwire would be more comfortable.  She also pointed out that these wires went all the way under my arm to my back, which was unnecessary.

After Freddy saw the problems I had with this bra, it was time to try some that would hopefully be a better fit.  At the Fit School they do not take two measurements and then calculate your bra size (some of the fitters there seemed baffled by this).  Rather, they take the measurement underneath your bust and then guess based on your current bra what cup sizes to try.  This is a good method because your bust measurement can vary greatly depending on if you are wearing a bra with padding, a cloth bra, or no bra at all.

My fitter suggested I don’t even bother with a G, but try a 28 FF (I think it was a Freya bra).  The differences between this and the Bravissimo were drastic.  While they both seemed good by appearance, with the 28 FF I felt that I could relax and forget that I was wearing a bra, instead of having to hide grimaces of pain.  The lovely group of women at the Fit School immediately commented on how much happier I looked with a different bra!